HARPING ON THE THIEVES
In 1911, during Japan’s occupation in Korea, Yeom Suk Jin (Lee Jung Jae) is a young resistance fighter who tries to kill Kang In Gook, a pro-Japanese businessman. Kang discovers that his own wife was helping Suk Jin and succeeds in killing his wife. However, a wet nurse escapes with one of his twin daughters. By 1933, the Korean independence fighters have grown in number in Korea, China and Manchuria. Suk Jin recruits a skilled, female sniper, Ahn Ock Yeon (Jun Ji Hyun), and rescues two other colleagues from prison, Hwang Duk Sam (Choi Duk Moon) and Rapid-Fire (Jo Jin Woong) to have them take out a top Japanese Army commander. However, their mission becomes exposed when a hit man, Hawaii Pistol (Ha Jung Woo), is hired to take out Ock Yeon and her colleagues.
In the follow-up to his 2012 hit, The Thieves, Assassination seems to rehash the premise of a motley crew coming together for one goal. It was billed as a Korean-style Western but it feels more like a caper flick. If you’re looking for a Korean-style Western, I’d probably look to The Good, The Bad, The Weird instead. One key element in Western that’s in The Good, The Bad, The Weird is that it draws clear lines as to who is the good guy and who is the bad guy from the get-go; that’s not the case for this flick.
Rather, this film explores another crucial theme that’s seen in Korean movies, “Han”. It’s a bit hard to describe in so few words as there have been papers written about this term and its meaning but in short, it’s a Korean’s sense of oneness, which extends from the fact that, historically, Korea was often invaded by foreign powers.
I think the thing I was most intrigued was the fact the cast of characters seen in this movie are rebels and ragtag. One man’s terrorist is another man’s hero. In fact, some of the real-life resistance fighters that’s depicted in the movie, such as Kim Koo and Kim Won Bong, had to live in hiding because of the important role they played in furthering their opposition to Japan’s rule.
Also, when we’re first introduced to Hwang Duk Sam and Rapid-Fire, we meet them in jail. They say that they’ve decided to join the cause because of the money they’ll get for being assassins for hire but assassins for hire typically have an escape route planned out when things get too intense. It’s their belief in “Han” that keeps them fighting until the end. Hawaii Pistol is a character that is eventually swayed by the “Han” as well. He may have been in it partly for the money, partly for the girl and partly for the notoriety but he eventually sticks it out until the end because of the belief that he’s making a difference.
This backdrop is the crucial element that makes this film different from The Thieves but essentially, we have almost the same cast, playing almost the same type of characters. Oh Dal Soo is the comic relief. Kim Hae Sook plays the backup support. And Jun Ji Hyun is the skilled tactical person who also is the eye candy. Last but certainly not least, Lee Jung Jae literally plays the same character that he played in The Thieves.
One of the most disappointing things about the film is that the Japanese characters are so one-dimensional. They are the oppressors and nothing more. However, Lee Jung Jae brings a lot of historic significance to the role as Yeom Seok Jin, as he’s the most human character in the film. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sympathetic for this character. However, the time period was one that was filled with a lot of uncertainty. When you’re faced with these oppressors, who do you side with? Yeom Seok Jin’s most pivotal line in the film is, ‘Because I didn’t know.’
The ending is quite poetic but the rest of the film is filled with a lot of flashy action scenes and predictable plot elements. At a certain point, it really obvious in what the direction the movie wanted to go in for each of the characters. So much so that it took a lot of fun out of the movie for me. If you haven’t seen The Thieves, it would probably be best to watch this one first and then The Thieves afterwards, as I found the supporting characters far more interesting.